Anathema April 8, 2019

Matt Brake wrote a wonderful post exploring a central question raised by the story Silence by Shusaku Endo, made into a film by Martin Scorsese. Matt writes:

I can’t help but think that Rodrigues’ ultimate sacrifice—giving up the hopes of eternal life—for the sake of these Japanese villagers is an act of love that would speak in a powerfully Christ-like manner to all observers and to all of those who heard about it.

And if this is the case, what does God think of such a sacrifice on the behalf of others? Is it really a sin that needs to be forgiven? How could it be possible that such a Christ-like act of selfless love for the well-being of others is an unforgivable sin that disqualifies one from entering eternal bliss?

According to certain understandings of the atoning significance of Jesus’ death, Jesus actually became accursed by God and bore the punishment for sin. And so one could argue that being willing to become accursed in order to save others, however pursued, is Christ-like on at least some level. What do you think?

Commonweal had an article on “The God of Silence” (referring to the movie). I also found myself thinking about this in connection with George Orwell’s 1984, which I am teaching this semester. In the novel, the character of Winston Smith is broken by the Party so that he doesn’t become a martyr in the classic sense. Yet the epilogue of the book suggests that he did indeed help bring about change, that his resistance was a meaningful victory nonetheless on some level, indeed, in the manner that had been anticipated all along: there was no personal benefit to him or his generation, but he still helped shape a better distant future.

Related to this post only through the question of how Jesus’ death is understood, and criticism of the penal substitution theory of atonement, is Andrew Perriman’s post on why the suffering Servant in Deutero-Isaiah should be understood as the generation of Jews who grew up in Babylon. It is a really intriguing and helpful suggestion. Up until now, my understanding of that figure in the Book of Isaiah, understood in its original context with a meaning that its author and first readers could have understood, has been that it denoted the righteous who were carried off into exile. The prophets active at the time of the Babylonian crisis responded to claims that the evildoers had been taken away by insisting that if anything the reverse was true. And of course, Ezekiel was among the early exiles taken to Babylon even before Jerusalem fell. This alternative is one I’ll have to consider further. Either way, of course, there is a key point of agreement: it was some group of Israelites (the Servant is explicitly said to be Israel) suffering on behalf of the wider Israelite community. It may later have been applied to Jesus, but that wasn’t its meaning originally.

Richard Beck talked about St. Francis and the understanding of Jesus as example rather than substitute. See too the preview of Peter Stuhlmacher’s book on Isaiah 53 in the Gospels and Acts.

Also possibly of related interest, on the topic of crucifixion, justice, and atonement:

2019 Lenten Midweek Reading: A Question of Justice—The Heart of Christianity

2019 Lenten Midweek Reading: They Know Not

See also Andrew Perriman’s post “The salvation of the Jews by the “Author of life”—not quite in the way you might think.”



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